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Abernethy
Abernethy
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nonconformist divines, the second in descent especially being of some eminence. Claims have been made both for Ireland and for Scotland as the native country of Abernethy; but his baptismal certificate, dated 24 April 1765, at St. Stephen's, Walbrook, is given by Macilwain (Life of Abernethy, i. 16), who states other facts on the authority of Abernethy himself. He was educated at the Wolverhampton Grammar School under Dr. Robertson, and at the age of fifteen was apprenticed to Mr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Blicke, surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He followed the surgical practice of the hospital and also the course on surgery (the only lectures then given there) of Mr. Pott. At the same time he attended the lectures on anatomy given at the London Hospital by Dr. Maclaurin and Sir William Blizard, the latter of whom by his instructions, and further by appointing Abernethy prosector for his lectures, gave him his first impulse to the study of anatomy. In 1787 he was elected assistant-surgeon to St. Bartholomew's, and held this appointment for twenty-eight years till he succeeded as full surgeon. He then began to lecture on anatomy at his house in Bartholomew Close, and speedily attracted a large class, the numbers of which were swollen when Dr. Marshall, the most popular anatomical teacher in the city, ceased to lecture. Abernethy's success was one of the causes which induced the governors of St. Bartholomew's to build a lecture theatre, where in 1791 he began to lecture on anatomy, physiology, and surgery, and thus became the founder of the medical school attached to that ancient hospital. About this time he was himself a diligent attendant at the lectures of John Hunter, with whom he had also private conferences on scientific matters, and whose influence greatly determined the bent of his mind.

Throughout this period Abernethy was much occupied with anatomical and physiological observations, and published three short papers on anatomical subjects in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ from 1793 to 1798. In 1796 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1814 he was appointed to lecture on anatomy and physiology at the College of Surgeons (there was no regular professorship), and held the office till 1817. His lectures were mainly devoted to explaining the Hunterian museum, then lodged in the college, and to expounding the views of John Hunter, of whose theory of life Abernethy constituted himself an ardent champion.

In 1800 he married Miss Anne Threlfall, of Edmonton, by whom he left a family.

Abernethy's scientific reputation and his popularity as a teacher grew rapidly, and his private practice was subsequently very large. In 1815 he became full surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and resigned this appointment in 1827. He died after a lingering illness at Enfield 28 April 1831.

Abernethy enjoyed during his lifetime the highest reputation as a surgeon, anatomist, and physiologist, and exercised great influence on his profession. Though his reputation has not quite stood the test of time, his influence is still felt in certain departments of practice. In anatomy he did no original work of any value, but was a very brilliant lecturer, and as such instructed most of the eminent men of the coming generation. As a physiologist he became known for some desultory and not very important researches, but chiefly as the defender of John Hunter, whose views, after his death and before the posthumous publication of his lectures, Abernethy had almost a monopoly in expounding. As an operating surgeon Abernethy early became distinguished for extending John Hunter's operation for the cure of aneurism (by ligature at a distance) by tying the external iliac artery. This was in 1797, but he afterwards attained no great fame as an operator—a fact which may have been partly due to his long tenure of office as assistant-surgeon where few opportunities were allowed him. In later life he became extremely averse to operate. His other chief contributions to practical surgery were a paper on injuries to the head, in which he deprecated the indiscriminating use of the trephine, which was at that time customary; and an important improvement which he introduced in the opening of lumbar abscesses by early incision without admitting air. His memoir on the Classification of Tumours deserves perhaps more attention than it has received. It is a rough but masterly sketch, quite in the spirit of recent investigations, and had it been more carefully worked out might have been of great value. But the work by which he was best known, and on which he would himself have rested his fame, is the Essay on the Constitutional Origin of Local Diseases, which has profoundly influenced surgical practice. The title implies a truth little recognised when the essay first appeared, though now universally admitted; but the scope of the work does not bear out the title. At the present day the constitutional origin of diseases is conceived of in a different and far wider sense than it was by Abernethy, whose work deals almost entirely with the relations of local diseases to certain disorders of the digestive system. The first